A Work of Fiction

Martin and his girlfriend Steff have moved into the cottage of their dreams in deepest, rural Wiltshire.
Read her diary and live the life.

Rundown and Romantic

The Residents of Chittham

Donald and Audrey at The Larches.
Audrey was conscious of the many wrinkles on her face, the road map Time had scourged as it had ridden rough-shod through her life. Those eyes, still so blue, were half-buried under folds of papery skin, eyelashes sparse, eyebrows wiry but sparser still. What had become of her?
Proudly, she reminded herself how Donald still loved her. He lay asleep on the bed, his massive bulk like a whale under canvas. His snores fluttered his flaccid lips while he slept and his chest rattled. He was no great catch physically, but Audrey knew his heart. He was a good man. Fat as he was, he had always put her first. He had supported her when no one else would. He had stood up to her tyrant of a father and virago of a mother. He had married her despite the general scorn of the village.
No one had attended the wedding. A gorgeous day; warm, breezy, lilies and lilacs, but not a soul to wish them well. Audrey had kept a stiff upper lip; she wouldn’t let them see her cry. But Donald had wept. Openly. He had stood by her at the altar, his large hands encasing her own, and looked into those blue eyes to repeat his vows when the floodgates had opened and he had cried like a baby. The vicar was wrong-footed. Audrey had dabbed Donald’s wet cheeks with the nylon sleeve of her gown but nothing could stop his racking sobs resounding around the empty church. Audrey suspected it was the sight of the many empty pews that had sparked this great tide of emotion. No one was there to catch the flowers, or marvel at her dress. No one was there to eat the cake.
Yet, despite the ill-wished beginning, Audrey and Donald had survived forty years together, trundling along in their insular lives with hardly any friends, growing their own, making do and mending. They were happy together. But similarly now, they were old.

Sid. Potter's Lane

It started as a joke. We were young, bored, out for a good time. You never think, do you, that it might all go wrong, if not for you, then for some other poor, ingenuous fool? We certainly didn’t that February night in the Tapas bar. We sauntered in, dressed to kill (well, we thought we looked hot then, but looking back on it, it’s quite embarrassing) and leaned against the bar as though afraid it might collapse without our support. Ha, later we would discover that it was Johannes who would be doing the collapsing, and in a skip round the corner. He never could take his drink.

Bruce stayed sober, if I remember rightly. He was so unbelievably self-contained it was untrue. Girls fancied him, it was obvious, but they always seemed to turn into his friend rather than get entangled in anything more. Not that Bruce couldn’t get a girlfriend, he was just incredibly choosy, I think. Unlike the rest of us – okay, me. He usually had someone special tucked away, but all the girls were in place as if he’d positioned them carefully like pieces on a chess board. There was never any heartache for Bruce. No dilemmas, no confusion. He was master of his own universe while Johannes and I blundered on – in skips, generally.

There was some protracted speculation about Johannes; it went on for months. ‘He’s gay,’ Paul would say to me as though those two words explained everything, but then, to Paul, they did. Paul was a very black and white character; there were no shades of grey in his paint pallet. Whereas for Johannes, the world was one huge morass of greys, from dirty white to thunder cloud. Life was never simple for this poor bastard and I realise now, all these years later, that he was often deeply depressed, only we were usually too pissed up to notice. Whenever Paul came out with the ‘gay’ crap we laughed it off and kept our dubious thoughts to ourselves, but knowing what I know now – now that he’s dead – I would say it was all so obvious we must have had our heads stuck up our arses for much of the time. I think about it a lot. Sometimes it makes me cry. Poor kid. If only we’d seen it earlier. We could have done something. He might still have been here.

Amelia, who visits her parents at weekends.
The rain came down. God, did it ever.

We stood in a huddle like wet-feathered crows, our umbrellas useless bits of flapping rag, our shoes sliding in the churned mud.

Sian kept muttering and moaning. She could moan for England, that’s partly why I was so fond of her. If I hadn’t been so damned miserable I would have laughed, but that’s not an acceptable code of behaviour for a funeral.

Jon stood at my left elbow. His face was dark, sombre. This was a funeral we had all felt an obligation to attend, but in truth it meant little to any of us. Only Jon. It had been his insistent urging that had brought us all here. And now here we were, soaked to the skin, hungry and disgruntled, paying homage to the one man none of us knew, but somehow we all detested. Jon said it was only right. Jon made us feel guilty and heartless. Jon had only to twitch his little finger and we’d all come running.

Harry Forester had been Head of our school since Noah had first commissioned the Ark. I wasn’t a teacher then, of course, but his legend stretches right back and surges forward at the same time. I heard a lot about him (mostly unsavoury, third-hand accounts) on my very first day, and all I can say is I’m glad I never knew him. He was a mean man. A hateful boss by all accounts. He flirted with the female teachers and, some say, with the men as well. So why was I here? Because Jon said.

As I watched the vicar’s lips moving in wind-whipped prayer, and the first fistful of earth spattering onto the coffin lid, I found myself wondering just what it was about the man lying below us that had affected Jon so deeply. How did he know him? Jon was twenty-four; two years younger than me. Far too young to have had dealings with Forester who had been way past retirement age when he died. I allowed my eyes to slide from the coffin to the line of Jon’s chin. His mouth was set firmly. Grimly. His eyes stared down at the wooden box in near fixation and I’m certain I saw the glimmer of tears.

It’s not often you get the chance to really study someone without them feeling the weight of your stare, but Jon was so engrossed that I felt able to look at him as though he were an interesting painting rather than flesh and blood that could so easily and quickly colour with embarrassment. I wondered why we all did his bidding. Every day, even without being aware of it, people gave in to him, altered their plans to fit in with his, empathised with his moods. Yes, I did too. But it wasn’t healthy and I wanted to stop. There was no denying the fact that he was good-looking; it might have been his tumbly hair or his raven colouring, but I think it had more of an insidious source. Some energy radiated from him; it was warm, it felt nice, but it had hooks on the end. A tiny muscle under his eye twitched and I smiled inwardly at the slight reddening of the tip of his nose and knew those hooks firsthand, feeling them digging their way into my own heart. To rip them out would hurt. But to leave them embedded would surely be to invite a sickness too pernicious to contemplate.

I had to be free.